WINCHESTER — There are two budget figures $2.3 million apart, but which one voters will see at Thursday’s deliberative session remains unclear, setting up a showdown between the school board and the town’s budget committee.
Saying the school portion of the tax rate is unacceptably high, the budget committee set its proposed school budget for 2012-13 at $9,197,777.
The current year’s budget is $11,089,128.
It’s the budget committee’s recommendation that usually goes before voters, but last week, Superintendent Kenneth R. Dassau sent a letter to Brian D. Moser, budget committee chairman, stating the school board would head to court to stop the $9.2 million budget from going through.
He said it “prohibits the school district from fulfilling its legal obligation in the education of our students.”
The board never voted to authorize the letter, but Dassau said he got the “green light” from school board Chairwoman Colleen M. Duquette.“It was the advice of the board’s attorney that you cannot wait,” Dassau said at Thursday’s school board meeting.
The board voted unanimously Thursday to support Dassau’s letter, but also said any legal action would be unnecessary since it will be the school board’s $11.5 million budget that goes to voters at the deliberative session, not the budget committee’s.At the deliberative session, voters can make amendments to articles, including the budget, before residents go to the polls in March.
In a letter to Dassau, presented to the board Thursday, the school district’s attorney, Matthew H. Upton of Portsmouth, said the budget committee never held a public hearing on its budget (the budget was set after the public hearing on Jan. 3).
“Instead it appears that the Budget Committee members simply announced their list of recommended appropriations at a work session with no input from the public,” he wrote.
Upton also writes that the staff cuts proposed by that committee (14 of Winchester School’s 23 teaching positions) would raise class sizes to about 50 students (20 over the state regulation) and would not allow the district to meet special education requirements, since the committee also cut special education teaching aides.
Moser said he disagrees with the board’s reasoning and he expects to present voters with the $9.2 million recommendation at the deliberative session.
“We turned that budget in within the time frame and there’s absolutely no reason for them to turn that down,” he said this morning.Moser said he plans to call the office of the Secretary of State, which enforces election laws, on Monday.
At Thursday’s meeting, Dassau left open the possibility of taking the matter to court, depending on what happens next week.
“We’re not taking action pending whatever happens at the deliberative session … Hopefully we won’t have to cross that bridge.”
The deliberative session for the Winchester School District is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 9, at 7 p.m. at Winchester School.